1) Some say that it is easy to believe in Jesus and gain eternal life; others say that it is hard to be a Christian, and it involves a long struggle. Who is right?
Answer: This contention does exist; we need to face it. Before we say who is right, let us first compare the effect of either view. If I believe that it is easy to be saved, then I will rest assured of certain salvation. Is that good? Jesus said, Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.
2) Now those who say it is easy to be saved and hard to be lost, do they have Bible proof? If so, what are the texts?
Answer: They use Mark 16:16: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." They say that all you need to do is say, "I believe", and you will be saved. They also quote Rom. 10:10, "For with the heart one believes to righteous-ness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation." In order to fully comprehend these texts, we need to read James 2:17-19: "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe---and tremble!"
Some say, "Though Satan wants to harm us, yet He who is in you is greater than he that is in the world." And Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand." Jn 10:27-29.
These are precious texts, but should not be used as a tranquilizer to put one to sleep. The proper attitude of a Christian is not to relax, but to be on the alert, lest he become careless and wander away from Christ of one's own accord and step into enemy territory. Christ's words help us to see our danger. Only God is "able to keep you from stumbling." Jude 24.
Note that Christ says, "My sheep hear My voice . . . and they follow Me." To hear and "follow" is our act. The enemy cannot snatch us from Christ, but if we don't watch and pray, we can be charmed by the enemy, feel attracted by the world or leave Christ out of fear, like the disciples in Gethsemane. They first slept with no sense of danger, then fled when danger came. "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." 1 Cor. 10:11,12.
3) Against what historical background should we view all this antagonism?
Answer: The historical setting to all that is revealed in the Bible is the challenge posed by Satan. "Satan" means "enemy" in Hebrew. The Bible says that he "deceives the whole world." Rev. 12:9. This indicates the seriousness of the problem, we should not lightly regard it. In studying how to be a Christian, we also can't avoid struggling against Satan.
Since Satan is our enemy, he will do his best to ruin us. So Jesus warns us, "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matt. 26:41. 1 Pet. 5:8 says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world." These words all stress the truth that it is hard to be saved, easy to be lost. Jesus said, "Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matt. 7:13,14. Note the word "find". Eternal life is a treasure to be searched and found. God has indeed paid an infinite price in making the utmost sacrifice to save sinners, but if a sinner does not prize eternal life and receive God's grace to honestly repent, the power of God will yet fail to save him. As Jesus left the Temple for the last time, He deplored the stubbornness of the Jews in these words, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" Matt. 23:37. That crucial clause: "You were not willing!" Man is a free moral agent. If he does not respond to God's great love, nothing more can be done to save him.
4) When Jesus preached, what strong terms did He use to stress true discipleship as requiring complete surrender?
Answer: He said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it---lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? . . . So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all he has cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:26-33. A Christian's life is a battle and a long march. Paul said: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Eph. 6:12.
So Paul says, "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified." 1 Cor. 9:27. Paul was very realistic in his assessment of his antagonist.
5) Some people stress salvation by grace, not by works. Eph. 2:8,9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Now you say we must engage in a battle. Isn't that salvation by works?
Answer: No. All other religions teach people to be saved by works, only the Bible teaches us to trust in the blood of Jesus to cancel our debt of sin, then receive the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation, thus being saved by faith in Christ. The true believer is willing to surrender all to Christ, because he sees true worth in Christ, and the vanity of things in the world. Jesus put it in a parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." Matt. 13:45,46. This means that one must have a proper sense of values. He must prize the truth and be willing to forsake all in order to possess it. Matt. 11:12 says, "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." This last clause is best understood in the sense of its original Greek word, which is used in ancient literature to refer to the siege of a city. Christ means that we make every effort to enter the kingdom as if we must take it by storm.
When Jesus tells one to "take up his cross," He refers to the trials every Christian must endure. After Christ was condemned, they forced Him to bear His cross to the place of execution. See on Jn 19:17. So to "take up his cross" implies self-sacrifice to do the task God has given. Said Jesus, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." Jn 20:21. He also says, "Follow Me." "You will indeed drink My cup." Matt. 4:19; 20:23. Just before His death Jesus prayed, "O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless not as I will, but as You will." Matt. 26:39.
These texts reveal the ruthless nature of sin. Unless Christ dies, all humanity must perish. The Father and the Son paid an infinite price to open a way of escape for man. As His disciples, we hear Jesus say, "Come, follow Me," calling us to note His example, take up our cross and follow Jesus in self-denial. As long as Satan is not dead, the struggle will be hard.
6) "Justification" and "righteousness by faith" are all Bible terms. Will you please explain them further?
Answer: We explained above that because Christ was crucified for us, God freely justifies all who believe in Jesus, "God had passed over the sins that were previously committed." This free justification is explained in Rom. 4:2-5, "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something of which to boast, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." How is faith expressed? Some suppose it is simply to say, "I believe." See Rom. 10:10. Some have leaned on this one verse, and led many half-baked members into the church, forgetting Jesus' words, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." Matt. 28:20.
7) So you mean to say that when a man truly believes, his faith is revealed in action, is that right?
Answer: Yes. Bible truth is comprehensive and real, preventing extreme positions. James 2:21-26 says, "Was not our father Abraham justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. . . . For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
We have dealt so far with justification; now we will discuss sanctification.
It is not enough for God merely to count sinners righteous. If after they go to heaven and sin again, won't heaven be polluted? So after presenting justification, Paul writes on becoming righteous and holy. Rom. 6:1,2,16-19 says, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? . . . Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness? . . . And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. . . For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness." God wants all who have been counted righteous to become righteous and holy. Not only are past debts cancelled, but their sinful nature must be changed into a righteous one, so that they will be true saints.
8) If they are to sin no more in heaven, should they not have overcome sin before they enter heaven?
Answer: Yes. Before they enter heaven, they must have learned to overcome temptation and sin no more. In this many are not so sure, and say, impossible! can't be done! These words ignore Christ's command, "You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Matt. 5:48. And God's injunction, "Be holy, for I am holy." 1 Pet. 1:15. Was God kidding? If He told us to do the impossible, He would be an unreasonable God. For God never makes an unreasonable demand. He wants us to be holy because he loves us, and hopes to have us with Him forever. Parents want their children to develop upright characters; our heavenly Father likewise wants us to be holy like Him.
Justification depends on Jesus' merits on the cross. Confession of sin, repentance and forgiveness takes a short time. Sanctification is the work of Christ in the heart of a believer, and takes a lifetime. Col. 1:27 says, "what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." In order to have Christ in us, we must do as He says, eat His flesh and drink His blood by storing His words in our hearts to mould our thoughts and affections.
9) Why do some say "Impossible?" Is it because they don't want to reach God's high ideal and become saints?
Answer: The answer is in Rom. 8:3-8: " "For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin. He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God." All who say "impossible," look on their own weakness instead of placing their faith on Christ. If we truly believe in Jesus, we may receive unlimited power to overcome temptation. Jesus says, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Mark 9:23. One who truly loves God is bound to love His law.
Justification and sanctification are not hard to comprehend. Jesus summarized it in one sentence. He said to a penitent adulterous woman, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." Jn 8:11. "Neither do I condemn you," that is justification. "Go and sin no more is sanctification." How should that woman respond? Should she say, "Lord, you tell me to sin no more, that's impossible." No, the Lord's command in itself brought her power. Being forgiven by the Lord, her gratitude filled her with faith that she would never let Him down, but depending on His infinite power, overcome temptation.
10) I'm sure that she would resolve never to be unworthy of God's grace, but in case a powerful temptation should cause her to fall again, would the Lord cast her off?
Answer: Prov. 24:16 says, "A righteous man may fall seven times, and rise again." As a righteous man battles with Satan, he may fail to watch and pray and be tripped by the enemy, but being a righteous man, he still stands on God's side, and his loyalty is unchanged, so he rises again to fight. Simon Peter is an example. Before he fell, Jesus said to him, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail. And when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren." Luke 22:31. The Bible admits that the righteous can fall, but being a righteous man, his loyalty does not change, and his faith will revive. Hence the Lord warned him beforehand, and prayed for him, that his faith should not fail. So a righteous man may fall, but will rise again, unlike wicked men foundering in sin. 1 John 2:1 says, "My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins."
11) I note that David and Peter fell and rose again, King Saul and Judas believed at first but lost out in the end.
Answer: Correct. These examples show that the saying, "Once you have believed, you will be saved forever," is not Bible doctrine. It is a spiritual pacifier that causes you to relax your vigilance. 1 Cor. 10:1-13 says, "Brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, 'The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.' Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
This text of Scripture states that most of those who escaped from Egypt did not please God. God indeed loves all men, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 2 Pet. 3:9. But it's a pity most people do not prize salvation. Though they are baptized, and go to church, they sense no danger. So unawares, they fall into Satan's trap.
Teachings which create a false sense of security, causing people to relax their vigilance, are very dangerous. As Jesus prayed in agony before the crucifixion, and the destiny of our race hung in the balance, the disciples were sound asleep. Jesus said to them, "Sleep on now, and take your rest: behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners." Matt. 26:45 KJV. These words have a sense of irony: Sleep on if you can! As a mob of ruffians brandish their swords and clubs, sleep on! Likewise, the spiritual crisis we face today does not allow us to sleep.